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10 August 2011
A Deakin University aged care information expert and one of Victoria's largest not-for-profit aged, disability and education services provider Villa Maria have called on the Australian Government to urgently set up a simple free central information gateway where senior citizens and their carers can get customised information.
Dr Lemai Nguyen from the University's School of Information Systems and Villa Maria CEO Valerie Lyons said the Deakin University funded study, conducted in partnership with Villa Maria, had highlighted a mismatch between the services being delivered in community aged care and the needs of the elderly and their carers.
"Villa Maria aims make a meaningful difference to people's lives and assist senior citizens, people with a disability and their carers to remain active and connected in their community by supporting them in their choice to age at home," Ms Lyons said.
"Key to this are strong connections and relationships between individuals, families, carers, our workforce and the wider community.
"As a result of this research we have reviewed the way our own information and services are delivered on the web and we would support plans for a free co-ordinated approach to information provision in this sector."
In her research Dr Nguyen said the Productivity Commission Inquiry into Aged Care estimated that the number of Australians receiving support from the aged care system was set to increase by 150% over the next 40 years with almost eight percent of the population using aged care services by 2050.
"Even now, community aged care is a popular and emerging trend as many elderly live at home," she said.
"A Productivity Commission report noted that community aged care rose from two to 20% of the overall aged care subsidised places between 1995 and 2007."
Dr Nguyen said current community aged care services were not yet well developed or delivered and many elderly felt isolated and often had chronic illnesses requiring help and assistance.
In the two studies published recently Dr Nguyen looked at the information needs of the elderly and their carers and whether ICT could be used as a tool to help them improve their connection with the community.
"As has been found in other studies we found that the elderly often rely on their family carers and carers for help as proxy information seekers," she said.
"Yet both lack the professional knowledge and skills firstly to know what questions to ask, find the information, integrate it, interpret it for decision making and then use it to advocate for their husband or wife's needs and negotiate with service providers.
"Care providers also find it difficult as their clients expect immediate care solutions rather than being given the information to develop a care solution.
"The people we spoke too often said the information they received from health care providers and local councils largely comprised contact details, which although numerous were hardly practical.
"This lack of information integration from multiple entities (care staff, health care providers, carer support groups is a demonstrated but as yet unresolved problem."
Dr Nguyen said the primary sources of information for the elderly and their carers were other people, the telephone and the mass media in particular television.
"While ICT could help in both the provision of information and improving social connection there were barriers," she said.
"People spoke of issues with adoption: accessibility, usability, appropriateness/relevance of tools, training, and maintenance.
"People spoke of the speed of change and the technological support required to keep current/ "One person for instance said they learned one way on an Apple, another way with IBM and then spoke of the difficulty of keeping up with viruses and worms.
"Quotes like this were common: 'I forget things, she said and even if it is written down it doesn't make any sense to me. '"
"Others spoke of the drain in confidence when they asked family members for help.
"One son told his mother 'mum you are the main problem, you reject technology, you just don't want to understand it, you don't want to learn it."
Dr Nguyen said by necessity the world of the elderly and their carers contracted to close family and friends, dog walking groups, hobby related groups, men's sheds or men's carers groups.
"The stress factor visited upon the carers can be extreme with many talking of the need to talk to 'normal' people about normal topics," she said.
Dr Nguyen urged community aged care providers to investigate the use of technology, support and training within aged care packages.
"Simple and relevant tools with an appropriate user interface can be introduced to elderly users," she said.
"Social networking and communications tools need to be relevant to their practical needs, safe and simple to learn and use.
"Training and support can be arranged to fit with how people search for information maybe for example included within social activities or on-site."
"Ultimately our research demonstrates the need for the provision of integrated information on healthy ageing, future accommodation options, social participation opportunities, advice on age-friendly activities and information on the availability, quality and costs of care services from approved community care providers with specific information on how to access them.
"Such a gateway could be marketed by community aged care providers and all other providers in the health and social welfare chain."
At any point in time, Villa Maria provides 920 community care packages to people across Victoria and southern NSW. For more information on Villa Maria
Deakin Media Relations
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